Jane & Bertha
Madness leaks out of 19th century literature and most abundantly in Bronte’s Jane Eyre in the exploration of Jane and her counterpart Bertha as well as James Joyce’s story Eveline - Jane & Bertha introduction. Madness with the idea of animality, and in terms of its description and behavior will be interpreted as it applies to Jane Eyre internally and Bertha Mason physically as well as the context of character in which Joyce writes. In order for there to be a correlation, however, there must first be a bond, a way in which these two female characters have connected.
Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Since Bertha is Jane’s daughter in a way, it would make her (Bertha) a double nonentity. Bertha is the offspring of an orphan (someone with no ties and someone feeling the absence of a family) and a madwoman. Bertha is kept locked away in that room, locked inside of Jane and physically locked away in the attic at Thornfield. At Gateshead, Lowood, and Thornfield Jane struggles with her rebellion, hunger, and rage while still trying to find her identity. Each of these devices is thought unfeminine and beastly, so to appease the class hierarchy in society Jane must not admit that these feelings even exist.
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Bertha, on the other hand, embraces these characteristics. While Jane struggles with the burdens of being upright, Bertha revels in her twisted feminine pulchritude version madness. Bertha’s madness takes the form of nonverbal communication. She does not speak but makes guttural noises and laughs (cackles). Since Bertha refuses to speak, it can be assumed that she is using her silence as a form of protest and resistance. Bertha has good reason for protest, for one example, Rochester stole her away from her family, brought her to Thornfield, and locked her away.
The term madness is more of an open category used by physicians in Victorian times as an all-encompassing term for a feminine malady. Madness then is a term imposed upon women who do not adhere to or conform to the role of female, or madwomen are females who are unconventional in their behavior and who have deviated from the traditional female expectations of the nineteenth century. For both Jane and Bertha, the nineteenth century has turned it’s narrow back upon both of them, and lets remain orphaned in each other’s arms.
This is true for Jane whose reaction to events around her is very unconventional, but, because she is unable to do anything about her expected role, she must depend on Bertha to act. Jane traps her emotion in the red-room and by extension Bertha feels them and acts for Jane. By trapping her emotions, Jane allows Bertha to be vengeful and animalistic. Since Rochester has physically locked Bertha away, Jane realizes that he would never accept her true personality, or her hint of madness as it has so been termed. Bertha’s death is a questionable suicide.
It may be viewed as an action for liberations not only for Bertha but for Jane. It may also be viewed as Bertha’s final act against the oppressive hand of Rochester. In either case, it is clear that Bertha’s jump is ambiguous and not, as other critiques may see, an act or altruism for the sake of Jane. Jane Eyre is presented as a literary character in Charlotte Bronte’s novel of the same name. She is a quiet girl at times, but also a testy creature with a developing personality (so she is still very influential).
Jane is isolated in her home of Gateshead where she is minutely exposed to tales the help-maid Bessie tells her and other juvenile literature such as The Arabian Knights. With such a thin scope of the world, Jane has had to develop a unique way of interpreting the events and society around her. At Gateshead, she is treated as little more than a hindrance or as a “bad animal” (Bronte 15) and she is also referred to in other assortments of animalistic terms. Her family continually makes references to her as a “mad-cat”(Bronte19), and asked not to interfere with familial affairs.
In other words, she is explicitly told to keep silent and stay out of the way. This silence will play a dire part later in the novel in relevance to Bertha’s laughter. Quite habitually, Jane is associated not only with animals but something otherworldly. She calls herself impish and does not even recognize her reflection in the mirror in the red-room: “I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp . . . ”(Bronte 22). She is dissociated with her own image by way of being beaten down into a non-personality through torment from John, ridicule from Mrs.
Reed, and apathy from her two female cousins. Jane is chronically exposed to these elements, so she isolates herself and becomes even more so cut off from the closest family she knows. For example, she stuffs herself in the corner of the library, behind a curtain reading a book about Antarctic birds. This is a definite, blatant identity association on the part of Bronte, to get the reader to recognize Jane as completely isolated from what is the only familial scene she has known in her ten-year-old existence.
One day, however, the situation becomes unbearable and Jane finally releases her pent-up anger toward John and gives him a hard, charging head butt. Even this action portrays Jane in the primal, animalistic light with which she has so often been associated. This display of independence sends her off to the red-room where she pleads, “Oh aunt, have pity! Forgive me! I cannot endure it – let me be punished some other way! I shall be killed if -” (Bronte 25). This scene closes the red-room incident, but with it are a few clues to the future appearance of Bertha. Jane, in fact, does not die in the red-room.
A part of her, the animal side, and the uncontrollable side with unfeminine behaviors is locked away in that room. To put it another way, Bertha is birthed into the room (and I (Jane) was borne upstairs (Bronte 18)) and remains dormant until Jane’s appearance at Thornfield where her sexuality becomes an issue, or her sexuality rises to the surface of the novel, and finally Bertha is seen as a madwoman. Jane disposed all of her feminine or otherwise willful emotions into the womb of the red-room; Bertha on the opposite end of the spectrum, is made her doppleganger.
Bertha becomes increasingly active the closer Jane becomes to Rochester because it would mean that Bertha would be losing her “mother” to the confines of marriage (not only that but to the man Bertha is “married” to). It is because Rochester believes Bertha to be unstable that he locks her away. It is her outbursts, her hysterics which Rochester seeks to stifle. The term “hysterical”, with this definition, shakes off the negative former meaning and becomes an act of liberation.
Bertha can be defined as hysterical with the belief that her hysterics are a way of finding control around her in a place where she is made to be controlled through chains and treated as Jane was treated at Gateshead; with subhuman dispensability. Joyce’s Eveline Similar to this idea of insanity and animality in Bronte’s novel, Joyce writes such a disposition in his character Eveline in the story of the same name. Even in the beginning of the story the theme of invasion is cemented into the reader’s mind as Joyce writes, “She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue” (Joyce paragraph 1).
Thus, the form of invasion or perhaps of having the main character feel as though their identity is not their own, is being invaded by another source, is what is so intriguing about this character and builds a connection between her and Jane Eyre. The theme of Joyce’s story is about change, about mutation not only in the change in the houses in Eveline’s neighborhood after the field was bought by the man from Belfast, but also in how this neighborhood change or environmental change affects Eveline and her personality and disposition just as Jane being orphaned and her environmental change affects her.
The change which the reader assumes according to Joyce’s interpretation of events occurs with this neighborhood change and advances as the narrative goes into detail about the people surrounding Eveline such as her mother or her neighbors and their deaths or movement from the old neighborhood. In essence, the change in the characters in either story is about a change in the home.
Either the mutation of the house and its surroundings as in Joyce’s story or the change in the identification and environment of home as Jane travels from her house to her aunt’s to the orphanage and finally ending up with her husband. In Joyce’s story Eveline has to leave her home just like all of the others which forces her into a question of her own identity since part of that identity had been so closely associated with her own environment and now it was forced to change, to mutate, to form into a new environment just as Jane had to do.
All three women, Jane, Bertha, and Eveline must deal with this change in environment, from Bertha leaving her home in the tropics, to Jane’s many moves, and to Eveline’s leaving not only her childhood home but her identity as it was formed intrinsically with that environment. Both Joyce and Bronte created their characters according to their environments and with environmental change comes a closely tied psychological change as can be seen in Jane’s personality, Bertha’s madness and Eveline’s apathy.